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Monday, July 11, 2011

Hands up journalists who heard about ACMA's public interest and privacy propositions?

I was away when the Australian Communications and Media Authority published its finding in February that the Seven Network had not breached standards in outing the NSW Transport minister at the time leaving a gay club, as there was a public interest served, simply picking up on media reports, for example by Richard Ackland critical of what seemed to him (and me) muddle headed thinking.

But in the course of looking at media/privacy issues in the context of the demise of the News of the World, I came across this answer by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to a question on notice about the ACMA determination by Senator Ludlam. While the public interest reasoning still seems as wacky as ever-the Authority advised the Minister "the public interest justification for the broadcast was very limited and, in the particular circumstances of the case, arose solely on the ground that it explained the Minister's sudden resignation"- ACMA affirmed important propositions about the public interest that seem of enduring importance to the media generally, particularly in the light of current circumstances.

For example that "public figures.. are entitled to privacy protections" although less than private citizens (some politicians will be equally surprised at this); that "conduct in a public place can be the subject of legitimate expectations of privacy" (Mark Day at News' The Australian wouldn't like that); that "s.xual behaviour or preference is generally a private matter"; and that "a public interest must be ‘identifiable' not some mere assertion." Not that there is that much new in this. And has anyone alerted those who work at the News owned Daily Telegraph, where editors have run up "the public are interested=the public interest" argument on several occasions to justify bad calls, to another not new ACMA proposition, that "not all matters that are of interest to the public are matters of public interest"?

ACMA's full list of "important propositions" are:
a. Public figures and private citizens alike are entitled to the privacy protections under the Code.
b. Even conduct in a public place can be the subject of legitimate expectations of privacy.
c. A person's s.xual behaviour or preference is generally a private matter.
d. But there is a balance to be struck between an individual's privacy and the broadcast of matters of public interest.
e. Not all matters that are of interest to the public are matters of public interest.
f. Under the Code, a public interest must be ‘identifiable'; not some mere assertion.
g. The public interest exception in the Code (to the prohibition of the broadcast of private material) is more likely to apply in cases involving public figures than private citizens.
The Authority found that the broadcast material breached both limbs of the privacy provisions set out in clause 4.3.5 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2010. The investigation report makes it clear that the footage of the Minister leaving the KK club, together with information about the nature of services offered by the club, was material that related to the Minister's personal or private affairs and invaded his privacy.

But because Campbell resigned when he became aware the footage was to be shown, but before it was broadcast, publication was in the public interest- because he resigned, if you get what they mean! I'm struggling with what journalists should make of that.


  1. Media - or journos, don't need to be qualified or registered to work in the industry and in fact there are a lot of media outlets that prefer non-members, or people qualified in an alternative discipline - like IT. So, there are a lot of media workers who don't have a good, solid, informed starting point for ethical decisions and legal compliance when working.

    Then, there is an additional erosion of ethical POVs in certain mainstream media outlets(not all), because they have to make money in an industry that isn't going so well right now.

    It's a slippery slope that some media workers cannot negotiate very well on their own.
    Hartigan himself complained in a story in his own paper a few years ago about the training of university journalism students creating journos who were too moralistic, and investigative skills creating "advocates."

    Journalism ethics is relative and subjective, & very difficult for some people - but the law isn't, and it is pretty much the only guideline that media can really rely on. But a lot of media don't have training in law or supported education with regards to how to work within the law, from their employers.

    There are a few codes that are intended to act as ethical guidelines - I haven't heard of this one. I quite like the old AJA code of ethics, which said members were obliged to act ethically not only to the public, but to each other(which they don't presently). They also followed stricter ethics guidelines back then in other regards such as independence, and PR people weren't members(conflict of interest).

    Regulation is a bit limited but it isn't reasonable to haul an individual journo over the coals when they're not in a working environment that's conducive to ethical behaviour or their bosses are ruthless.

  2. Thanks Magnet, appreciate your input.